It has been four thrilling months since I arrived in Washington, and I feel extremely fortunate that I get to spend another two months here before heading back to Finland. My internship at the embassy's political affairs team has offered me a unique vantage point to my field and indispensable hands-on work experience all thanks to the fantastic crew of the embassy.
Personally, living in Washington, D.C. has been a perplexing experience because of the city's mythical and grand associations. Even after four months of living and working here, I still feel like I have yet to arrive— surely I can't be worthy enough to live in the epicenter of it all. The city has such a unique and significant standing in world politics that it always feels a bit untouchable. When I'm following the news from the Capitol, it still feels like a city far away. It is only on the Sunday strolls I take around the National Mall when I realize exactly where I am. And even then, it feels like a dream I snap out of as soon as I descend into the metro and make my way to Glover Park.
All this being said, what makes the U.S. in general different to other countries I’ve visited so far is the feeling of familiarity with its culture. As someone who has grown up in the midst of Americanization and consumed American culture as my own, I feel a strong connection with the U.S. and its people. But as funny as it sounds, the sense of familiarity with the country kept me from visiting it until I was already 26-years-old. Before that, I didn’t have a particular interest to experience the country myself, as I felt I had done it so many times through popular culture.
But since then I’ve come to understand that this sense of familiarity can be deceptive, as it has a tendency to be more superficial than I’ve realized.
In recent years, the buzz surrounding American popular culture has spilt over into politics as the European media, following their American counterparts, has started reporting on every move of the new administration and its election process. Though the comparisons to House of Cards are not always unwarranted, and the polarization is an undeniable development, the constant news cycle of the administration's controversies makes the situation on the ground appear a lot worse than it actually is. Speaking from my own experience, the constant updates make it easy to become more emotionally invested than a non-American probably ought to be.
The U.S. gets a lot of criticism from abroad over its domestic politics. The omnipresence of U.S. politics around the world can result in many outside the country ultimately treating the names and the events as their own. Oftentimes, for instance, my fellow Europeans may sometimes come across as overly critical of the U.S. — though to my American friends, I would like to say that that is just how we show that we care about you.
Now having actually spent quite a considerable amount of time here, I can finally attach some real, human, and grounding experiences to this country. I’ve met both inspiring and incredibly welcoming people of all of walks of life and opinions during my stay, and can finally say that they don’t get the news coverage they deserve.
Text: Ramus Reinikainen